The question of dependence is a critical one for engaging in any sort of cross-cultural partnership. In the nineteenth century, CMS’s Henry Venn came up with three marks of a mature church: self-supporting, self-propagating and self-governing. Though he planted churches in west Africa, he believed that autonomy was key to treating these believers with the full dignity they deserved. Over the next few posts, I want to consider the different sides of dependence.
Dependence itself may be a missionary legacy. An anecdote that was related to us recently by a Tanzanian elder was that in African indigenous religion, if you wanted something from the gods or ancestors, you brought an offering. You had to contribute something. Generally speaking when missionaries came, putting a stop to this practice and saying that God gave freely, along with setting up schools and hospitals, Tanzanians got in the habit of sitting back, crossing their arms and waiting to be given stuff. This elder believes this passivity is a learnt practice and that the former socio-cultural practices that saw everyone with a part to play have not been accessed as they could have been.
Note that what’s on view here is having something to offer. Being an autonomous church doesn’t mean being isolated from other churches around the world. Healthy interdependence should exist between national churches, but this ought to be two-way, not one church being solely reliant on another, or feeling like they have nothing to offer. That leaves all the power in the hands of the western church and reduces the national church to ‘please Sir, I want some more’. Venn’s vision was to interact with African churches as brothers and sisters, not children. Since then, another ‘self’ has been added: self-theologising.
Tomorrow, what dependence means for relationships…
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.